Advantage Book Binding: 25 Years Young

by Dianna Brodine, The Binding Edge

Advantage Book Binding Inc. founder and CEO Jerry Nocar is a true American success story. Recently inducted into the Binding Industries Association (BIA) Hall of Fame, Nocar started working in the bindery business as a teenager. He began by sweeping floors (a job his mother got him when he left school before finishing the eleventh grade) and worked his way up, running the equipment and eventually moving into sales. Nocar’s work ethic, charisma, and high energy powered his success in the industry, helping him create relationships that would prove invaluable when, in 1985, he opened Advantage Book Binding in Glen Burnie, Md.

These days, Nocar and his wife, Chris, are enjoying the semi-retired life while their daughter, Christine, and her husband, Christopher Webbert, run the binding business. With a young management team and a dedication to quality, on-time production, Advantage has positioned itself for a strong future in the traditional book binding business.

A Silver Anniversary

Celebrating its 25th year in business in 2010, Advantage Book Binding still follows the mission set by Jerry Nocar when he opened shop: “We do a quality book on time.” With 40 employees operating from the original 36,000 sq. ft. building, the bindery’s primary capabilities include case binding, perfect binding, and mechanical binding. “While we have stayed true to our mission, we also have made numerous changes to our business philosophy over the years to be more flexible to meet our customer needs,” explained Chris Webbert, president. These changes include adding new services to the bindery’s existing product lines. For instance, Advantage added PUR glue to its adhesion capabilities, adding three new product lines for its customers. “Listening to our customer needs over the years has helped us grow our business, investing in new equipment that has expanded our capabilities and product lines,” said Webbert. The company also has the ability to provide Smyth sewing, wire-o, drilling, tipping, stamping and embossing, folding, cutting, diecutting, and shrink wrapping. A fully automated dust jacket machine simplifies hardcover book production.

Advantage Book Binding services commercial printers, digital printers, book printers, and publishers, with the book market as its biggest niche. 75 to 80 percent of its work is focused on the local market, but Advantage also competes nationally in the softcover and mechanical binding markets. These days, approximately 40 percent of its total business is in hardback book production, creating art books, legal manuals, and high-quality coffee table books. “We’ll produce anywhere from one to one million books,” Webber stated. “We’re doing a lot more short run digital or custom books, but the average run size is going down so we have to be ready to do 50 books or 500,000.” With trim sizes ranging from 3×5″ to 12×15″, Advantage prides itself on its flexibility, quick changeovers, and ability to adapt for difficult jobs.

“Kindle” is a Bad Word

With research firm Forester predicting that e-reader sales in 2010 will exceed 6.6 million devices and reporting that ebook sales have outpaced hardcovers, the book industry is obviously facing a challenge. Webbert has been watching the trend. “Kindle is a very bad word in our family,” Webbert laughed. While Webbert acknowledges the need for e-readers for people who travel a lot or who are avid readers who go through several books at a time, he also believes there’s room for both methods of book publication. “There’s no doubt about it – the industry is shrinking,” said Webbert. “Technology is going to affect us, but I think ink and paper books are going to be here for a long time, especially for certain product lines.”

Pointing to the marketing and advertising industries, where email, direct mail, radio, television, and the internet all coexist, Webbert believes casebound binding still makes sense for businesses that approach it wisely. “The market is shrinking and the business is changing, so if we don’t change with it and make the right decisions, then we’re not going to be here either,” he explained. “However, we are positioned very well because of the decisions we’ve made over the years.”

In addition to the threat from electronic media, print also has been attacked by those urging environmental consciousness. Advantage Bookbinding has partnered with the Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic (PGAMA) and other print and design partners in the Print Grows Trees educational campaign. Advantage has bound more than 2,500 books that have been used to promote the truth that print on paper actually helps to grow trees, keeping forests from being sold for development. (Read the message from Kerry Stackpole, president of PGAMA, on page 9).

In fact, at Advantage, the emotional attachment that people have for bound books has provided additional opportunities for business. “We’re doing a lot of repairs for Bibles on a local level,” said Webbert. “Over the years, families have journaled events and put so many notes into the family Bible that there’s an attachment to it. They are willing to spend the money to repair the book. That’s a market I never thought we’d get into, but we listened to our customers to find out what they wanted.”

Adjusting to a Changing Business Model

Lean economic times, digital book production, and short runs have impacted casebound binderies. At Advantage Book Binding, the company has responded by becoming more open-minded toward the small run custom work that it might not have quoted in years past.That type of work has helped compliment our sales during the tough months,” Webbert explained. “It’s also made us better at listening to the customer’s needs and exploring ways in which we can get the job done, as opposed to saying ‘no, we don’t do this service.'”

As a result, Webbert feels that his company is evolving into a marketing service provider for its customers. “Five years ago, PIA (Printing Industries of America) was telling us to find a niche, but now with the economy, we need to figure out how to grow sales. The whole model is changing,” he said. At Advantage, the company is taking on projects that it wouldn’t have entertained five years ago.” The key is making sure that the work we’re entertaining is work our customers want us to do. If we have a solid relationship with a customer, we’ll figure out a way to get the job done. In recent months, Advantage has taken on a fulfillment role for certain customers and also has created custom boxes for customers wanting an impressive presentation.

To ensure profitability, Advantage has invested in a customized software package that will allow its management team to make better decisions when evaluating the production costs for new projects. The team also has committed to implement lean manufacturing. “These management decisions will continue to help our employees become more involved with the processes in the plant,” said Webbert. “Our customers and company will benefit.”

Young Management Team

Advantage Book Binding’s leadership has a positive outlook and believes it will be servicing the printing and book industry for many years to come. “We are well-positioned for the future with a young management team. Our youth is one of the reasons we’re going to be doing this for quite some time – we have to! We want to build our business to sustain both us and our customers over the years,” said Webbert.

The bindery feels fortunate to have a very healthy customer base in an industry that is struggling with the tough economic conditions, handpicking its customers and servicing them well. A willingness to re-invest in the business with the newest equipment and best automation plays a critical role in maintaining those relationships. Fiscally conservative, Advantage evaluates each purchase in terms of return on investment. “We will not buy something if we can’t afford it or we cannot justify the ROI,” Webbert explained. “At the same time, if it makes sense for our customers and allows us to meet their needs, then we try to move forward. Our “sell” to potential customers is that we listen, communicate effectively, understand their expectations, and try to exceed them.” For Advantage Book Binding, its dedication to doing what it says it will is its biggest selling point.

Webbert also is aware that there aren’t as many resources for traditional hardcover book production as there had been in years past. “Because of the economy, there’s been a reduction in the number of casebinders, but there’s been a reduction of pretty much everybody in our industry,” he said. “We have a lot of competition in this area, but I don’t think there are many people who will get into casebinding fresh because it’s heavily material- and labor-intensive. Margins can be tough.” The bottom line, according to Webbert, is that the fittest will survive. With the company celebrating its silver anniversary this year and a management team ready to adjust as business models for the binding industry evolve, the potential for gold is bright!